A/N: Ummm....yeah. Can't really say anything this time.
Disclaimer: I don't own Trigun.
Chapter 21: Moments of Fear
"A wise choice," Dominic told the two before him. Vash barely paid him any attention, his eyes glued to the door Meryl and Millie had left by. Knives, on the other hand, was staring steadily at him, his blue orbs full of ice-cold fire.
Under that penetrating stare the other plant inwardly shivered. No wonder he'd been so feared, with a stare like that which could freeze a person's blood.
"Now that it is settled, I'm afraid I must leave," he told the twins, turning and making his way toward another entrance at the back of the room. He easily wove between the tables piled high with test tubes and glass jars. "I have plans to fulfill, after all."
Before he arrived at the exit, the doors slid open. Granny stood in the doorway and the old woman gave the plant a deep bow.
The two held a brief, murmured conversation which neither brother could hear. With one last, triumphant wave and a smile Dominic exited and the doors closed behind him, leaving them with the old woman.
Vash suspiciously eyed the person in whose care they'd been left. As he'd noted before, she didn't look like much, but he had a deep-rooted feeling that much like the rest of Dominic's minions, Granny was more than what she seemed.
The old woman fearlessly walked up to the twins, bent, and picked up their treasured weapons. She straightened and smiled, the guns cradled in her wrinkled arms.
"Well, gentleman," she spoke, "if you'll please follow me?"
Granny turned and strode toward the same door Meryl and Millie had exited by. With a brief glance and nod at each other the brothers followed after the henchmen. She gave one quick look back to make sure they were following her and continued on, leading them out of the room and into the bowels of the ancient vessel.
Like the rest of the ship, the walls were made of shiny metal and brought back many memories for the twins, both good and bad. Neither chose to dwell on them too long, lest they lose track of the here and now.
Their journey was a silent and uneventful one until Vash noticed his brother glaring at him out of the corner of his eye. He flashed him a confused look and saw Knives roll his eyes. The short-haired plant subtly gestured to the old woman with a vague wave of his hand, keeping it with his stride to hide the motion. Vash, finally understanding that his brother had formed a plan of attack, nodded. It didn't take him more than a second to figure out that to use their telepathy was a bad idea. With plant DNA running through Granny's veins there was a chance that she could pick up on their conversation.
After making sure that they weren't being watched, the older plant laid out his idea, continually stopping whenever Granny tilted her head toward them, then starting again when he thought the coast was clear.
By the time they made it to their destination the two had a complete understanding of what they needed to do. The brothers knew the risk that Millie and Meryl would be put in danger, but to do nothing was not an option either. Dominic needed to be stopped or the world would be thrown into utter chaos.
Granny continued to lead the way, walking right up to a pair of doors that slid open, revealing a small room that was bare except for two human-sized capsules and a computer station beside them, lights blinking all over the control console.
The cryonic chambers were undoubtedly for them, set up by Dominic in case they chose not to join him. He'd thought of everything, Knives grudgingly allowed.
The group was halfway toward the two pods when Knives suddenly stopped walking, standing his ground. Beside him Vash did the same, looking sideways at his brother, waiting for his next move.
Granny took a few more steps until she too halted. Slowly she turned around to face them, that same cheery smile plastered on her face. "Is there a problem, gentlemen?"
Knives shifted his stance and folded his arms. "Your master's plan is the problem, old woman. We are simply here to make sure that he does not succeed."
Her false smile finally fell, and quickly. She was frowning now, almost a snarl. Her tiny body shook with anger and something changed in the air in the room. "That's no way to talk of my master," she spoke slowly through clenched teeth.
Without any warning one of the large, metallic tables in the room lifted off of the ground and hung in midair. Both Vash and Knives swivelled their heads back to the frail, old woman, astonished.
She was smiling sweetly at them again, still cradling their guns in her gnarled hands.
"I suppose I'll have to teach you young people some manners."
With that the floating piece of furniture took off flying straight toward them.
Taking advantage of their naturally quick reflexes, both plants jumped out of way, each sliding to a stop at opposite sides of the room. Neither dared to take their eyes off of the new threat.
Granny sighed warily and shook her head. "You boys. Can't you just take your punishment like good little children?" Her face contorted into a hideous mockery of her motherly attitude from earlier. "You're making this much harder than this needs to be!"
Knives dashed forward, attempting to get to her before she tried anything else. The old woman was too fast for him, however, and sent large bottles of glass hurdling toward the light blond twin. He dodged, but had to stop his offensive.
"It's no use!" she crowed at him, cackling wildly. "I won't let you get close enough to harm me!"
He smirked and stood to his full height. Across from him Vash watched, wondering what his brother had up his sleeve now.
"Who said we needed to get close to you?" Knives raised one hand, palm spread toward Granny, and for a moment the air was full of an electrical current that spread from the plant to the former human. With a gasp the black gun in her grasp jumped and seemed to throw itself across the room and into the hand of its owner.
She and Vash gaped together as he aimed the weapon straight at her. "Your turn, Vash," he spoke to his brother without taking his eyes off of the genetically engineered plant.
"But how did you do that?" he whined.
For a second Knives' posture faltered as he tried not to fall flat on his face in surprise. Completely ignoring the other person in the room, he turned to his brother, his face a mask of impatience.
"Don't you remember for whom I made these weapons, you fool? It's yours! Connect to it and it should obey you!"
Blinking back to the present, Granny took the opportunity to mentally fling several more bottles and a few more tables at the twins, hoping to catch them off guard.
But neither sibling were completely unprepared for her strike. Vash flung himself to the floor as several objects flew over his head and crashed into the wall behind him. Using his gun, Knives destroyed the tables and smashed the jars to bits.
He glared at his brother out of the corner of his eyes, who was picking himself off of the ground. "Stopping messing around, Vash, and get your gun!"
"It doesn't matter what you do now," Granny shrilly screamed, looking not at all happy with the way things were going. "By now Tsume knows of your betrayal. Those young ladies with him won't live long once they taste his claws."
From above a loud groaning sounded and pieces of the metallic ceiling tile suddenly came off and straight down on them. Before Granny could blink Knives had shot a round hole in the one coming for him, making the metal weak enough for him to easily punch out the middle and come out unscathed.
Taking advantage of quick reflexes gained from years of experience, Vash flung himself upward and out toward the edge of the tile, effortlessly gripping it and flinging himself on top of the structure so that when it landed with a loud crash he was on top of it, rather than below.
Desperate, Granny began to randomly throw and twirl items around the room in a twisted game of Russian roulette.
"Knives!" Vash yelled in a panic, "You need to leave! NOW! Go and take care of the girls!"
Knives protested while simultaneously dodging another attack of glass jars. "The humans are yours, brother! You should be the one to leave. They are not under my protection."
Vash stopped for a moment as items flew around him, a deep and serious expression on his face. Knives halted as well, wondering what had gotten into his crazy brother to do something so foolish as stand completely still in the middle of a battle ground.
"Is there no reason for you to care, Knives?"
The question, so abrupt, caught the short haired twin off guard. A reason to care? Why would Vash ask such a silly question? He didn't care about any human, let alone a munchkin and an amazon.
After all, humans were all the same; greedy, unjustly arrogant and self-centered.
'But not those two.' The thought came from somewhere in the far reaches of his mind, an echo of words that struck a cord within him. His ideas of what humans were, of the typical person didn't fit so nicely on top of Millie and Meryl.
Meryl...the short woman with a big temper. Annoying and bossy, she'd bugged him to no end. But...the woman had also taken him in to her home and her life with nary a complaint. Sure, she'd told him what an ingrate he was, but that had only been out of anger and frustration.
Knives gritted his teeth, annoyed where his thoughts were headed. He looked to Vash who was still standing, waiting for a response.
He growled. "Fine."
Turning, Knives departed from the battlefield as Vash distracted Granny by dashing straight for her. He made his way out the door and took off at a sprint toward the part of the ship where he could sense the women were.
The plant ran swiftly down the corridor, heading directly for the area of the ship where he could sense Meryl and the other female had been taken. He delved enough to pinpoint where in the ship they were, but not enough to discern emotions or thoughts. That process would take longer. Undoubtedly, though, they were being taken to another cryonic chamber, where Meryl and Millie would be morphed into angels.
Left with his opponent, Vash sized up the situation. He was alone, facing up against a manipulator of objects with only a gun. From what Granny had displayed so far, manipulating any object in the room was a piece of cake to her. But right now he needed to find out exactly how far her powers extended.
Taking the time to dodge an assortment of flying glass, which she had picked up and started throwing at him, he took quick aim and fired at a non-lethal spot of her body. Glass embedded itself in his flesh as he forwent dodging in exchange for the shot.
Just as he suspected, before the bullet even made it within a yard of her the old woman stopped it cold in midair, a frightening smile on her face.
"Now, now," she taunted, raising one finger disapprovingly, "that is no way to treat the elderly."
With a narrowing of her eyes the small weapon sped backwards at Vash, grazing his tall hair as he dashed out of harm's way.
Her powers seemed practically limitless, he thought to himself, but something seemed...off. As he watched her cackle and telekinetically pick up a few more weapons, he figure out her weak spot, an item she didn't have any control over.
Slamming his gun into the holster attached to his thigh, Vash determinately sprung his plan into action. On the counter nearby, which had been almost completely emptied by Granny, stood a tall, green plant. Using moves perfected over the last century, he goofily made his way through the mass of flying objects and straight to the bush.
Seizing it by the stock, he plucked the plant, roots and all, and with one great heave-ho threw it as hard and fast as he could toward the old lady. She had already dispatched most of her objects at her target, thus she was not prepare for a face full of plant and dirt.
Cough and wiping her face, her concentration broke for a moment and Vash took his chance. He was across the room and in front of Granny with his gun raised in less time than it took her to breathe.
She stared down the barrel or his large, silver gun, a hint of fear creeping in her eyes. Vash was much too close for her to try anything without him making a move first. "You can't control anything living," he pointed out to her.
Her face broke out into a wide smile. "Yes, that is true. But knowing that isn't going to help you. You see, I know you won't shoot me, sir. Your particular brand of philosophy won't allow that."
The tall plant's serious face didn't waiver, though Granny knew that she had hit the nail on the head.
Quietly, and without looking toward the object, a large piece of machinery, as tall as a normal human and twice as wide, slowly floated above the ground, inching it's way toward them.
She grinned disarmingly at the young plant. "There's really no need for violence, is there? I'm sure we could settle this peacefully." Only a few more feet and there would be no way for the outlaw to dodge out of the way. "After all, we are very much alike." There!
But rather than squashing Vash flat, he unexpectedly threw himself to the floor, tight enough that the large object flew over him, missing his body by mere centimeters.
Granny now found herself with the enormous machine hurdling toward her at an alarming rate and with little hope of her stopping because of it's sheer size. It had taken a great deal of her energy simply to move it as far as she had.
In a poor imitation of the twin, she too hit the floor, though the object gave a glancing blow to her back as it sailed overhead.
The entire room shook with the force as the door through which Dominic had gone through was slammed and torn open by the impact. The sound of metal grinding metal was loud and echoing throughout the metal halls.
Slowly and warily Vash rose to his feet, keeping an eye on his surroundings in case Granny tried it again. The old woman was slower and noticeably limped as she struggled to stand.
Much like her predecessor, Gale, the human-turned-plant had no real grasp of her own powers, the major flaw Dominic had not bothered to fine tune, so engrossed was he in his master plan.
Around the room, items large and small rose from the ground and tables, even the very walls around them shook with the energy Granny was putting off.
She stood there, one hand on her injured back, and stared wildly around herself, completely incapable of stopping her own power. Vash knew what was coming, and he quickly made a dash toward her, dodging all sorts of objects as they began to swarm around the room.
Pieces of broken glass flew about, cutting at his exposed skin. He was almost to her shaking form when a large sheet of metal from the walls flew in front of him, blocking his rescue. It was a moment later that he heard a scream and then she too was flying by, a metal pipe having thrust itself through her abdomen.
She too floated amongst the chaos that surrounded him, pulling feebly at the object in her flesh. Blood wept freely from the wound and Vash had not a chance to get to her when a beaker slammed itself into her face, and she slumped forward, devoid of life.
As if a switch had been pulled, everything fell about him and on him as the source was immediately cut off. In a desperate effort, he managed to make it to her right after she too, dropped, deftly springing amongst the rubble.
As he had feared, the former human was gone, destroyed by her own newfound abilities, and by the person who had changed her for his own selfish reasons.
He gently set her down, silently promising to come back and give her a proper burial. At the moment more urgent matters called, and he could yet change the future of those he loved.
This was no time for berating himself with "what if's" and without a glance back he again climbed over the rubble and followed after his brother.
Knives ran swiftly down the corridors of the large spaceship, taking no time to memorize the path he was moving on. He focused on the mind of the tiny woman, following the signature like a path in the sand. The plant knew he was getting closer the father he went, for he could feel her presence becoming ever stronger.
Just as he was almost to her the short-haired plant suddenly lost contact with Meryl's mind, strong enough that it felt as if a pair of invisible scissors had cut the cord linking them. For that to have occurred something terrible had to have happened to the small woman...
He put on more speed as he switched to Millie's mental signature. Soon he was within sight of a set of doors that he knew they were on the other side of. The entrance slid open as he approached at a speed no human could hope to match. As Knives entered the room, Tsume turned to face him.
The scene revealed behind the henchmen stopped Knives cold. The large girl was on the ground, holding close the body of her friend with a scratch on her arm that had torn her shirt. The wound bled profusely. Red had blossomed from a deep wound in Meryl's chest, coating her white outfit in the same color. Her face was deathly pale, eyes closed.
Dominic had indeed kept his promise that the girls would be harmed if Vash and he had tried anything.
The color that so decorated her seemed to burn into the backs of his eyes until that was all Knives saw. Angry beyond anything he could remember, Knives set his sights on his enemy.
The henchmen drew himself up to his full height, his unwavering gaze measuring Knives up. His claws were stained and dripping with the two lady's blood.
Tsume flashed his teeth in a horrible, maniacal grin. "You're already too late," he spoke, shifting his stance in preparation of a fight.
Knives barely heard anything above the roaring in his ears. Not only was there the color of blood sporting the girls' clothes, but a thick film washed over his eyes. As if this pathetic fool could best him in anything, let alone cunning. The genetically engineered plant would pay dearly for this discretion.
No one messed with his plans, no matter if it involved humans or not.
But he waited just inside the doorway, quietly watching the maniac. He let nothing of his anger show, to do so would be a weakness. So for a few slow moments each stared the other down, waiting for the other to make a move.
Knives knew that he did not have an infinite amount of time to save the humans and chase after Dominic, but battles quickly rushed were quickly lost.
Tsume, apparently, did not feel the same way. With a quick start, he lunged at Knives, nearly slicing open his chest had it not been for his quick movement. He dodged to the right as the henchman extended his deadly claws. The twin didn't dare take the time to raise his gun, as the other was moving so quickly that to do so would have meant losing his hand.
He knew that he needed a way to distract him, if even for a second, to get a clean shot. They quickly found a rhythm of lunge and duck, parry and dodge. But the clock was ticking and he had had enough of this game.
Spotting his chance as Tsume made a wide and unbalanced strike, Knives ducked and roll away from him, his back once more to the doorway. With taking little time, he raised his gun and fired off a round, clipping Tsume in a few places on his body.
What he didn't expect was for his bullets to bounce off of his hard claws, ricocheting off and heading straight for the area to their side.
There were two open capsules on one side of the room, with large tanks of liquid sitting beside those. He recognized the fluid as the "miracle" Dominic had shown Vash and him earlier. Hoses connected from the tanks to the capsules. His wayward bullet found its mark in one of those two containers.
Glass flew out, followed closely by a spray of Dominic's "vaccine".
The girls and Tsume had no chance to move out of the way. Within seconds they were covered in the tidal wave as the tank was subsequently refilled by a back-up pump.
Acting quickly as the liquid came up to his shins, Knives located the valve and pulled the handle down, stopping the flow.
A terrifying scream from behind him had the plant twisting around, only to feel bile well up in his throat at the scene before him.
Tsume was leaning against the far wall, a multitude of fleshy appendages emanating from his body to surround him. Misshapen wings and feathers sprouted even as Knives watched. The henchmen shrieked in pain and fear as the process multiplied in seconds until his body was completely obscured and just as suddenly, one last, gargled cry came and then all was silent.
Knives had seen and done many gruesome things in his lifetime, but the picture of Tsume being swallowed by mutated flesh, his death screams echoing throughout the room, was one that wouldn't soon fade from his long memory.
Shaking himself out of his morbid thoughts he searched the room with frantic eyes until his gaze landed on the two girls. Both of them were laying face-down in the juice that still liberally covered the floor.
Sloshing through the disgusting stuff, he first came to Millie, whom he turned over and checked for life. Her breathing was labored, but she was alive.
He wasn't so sure the same would be for Meryl.
The tiny woman was completely motionless as he stepped up to her and grasped her small body, moving her until she lay on her back, his arm supporting her. Her white uniform was see-through except where it had been stained red from her blood.
His fingers shook as he checked for a pulse on her neck. When he couldn't even detect a flutter he pressed harder, his features tightening as he still could find no sign of life.
Knives' long fingers swiftly gripped her small wrist as he checked again for her pulse. When there was nothing again he let go, watching as her arm fell limply to her side.
He shook his head as his lips whispered a single word, "No..."
Uncaring for her modesty he tore apart her shirt, exposing the horrendous wound that was located right below her heart, directly over one of her lungs.
She'd lost so much blood. Around them the liquid was stained with it, but the wound was still steadily seeping. The "cure" had also gotten into the injury, mixing with her life's fluid.
As he stared at her motionless face a malevolent voice in the back of his mind spoke.
"She's just a human," it whispered.
He recognized his own words coming back to haunt him.
"She's worthless. Less than a bug."
But she wasn't. She wasn't like the rest of them...
"They're all the same. They destroy everything so they can survive. Like animals."
"You shouldn't care."
No, he shouldn't. But he did. He closed his eyes as an unfamiliar moisture stung at them.
The human race was still ignorant and base. Knives didn't deny that he wouldn't mind them being destroyed. But not Meryl...
Somewhere, somehow, along the way, amongst their adventures together he'd come to...care.
The realization almost had him dropping her body. He strengthened his grip, bringing her closer to himself.
He opened his eyes and stared at her familiar face. He knew her. So well. She didn't deserve to die like this, stabbed to death by a maniac because she'd cared about him and his brother. She'd cared. About him.
One tear fell, followed by more as he held her limp self. She couldn't leave! Not now! Not when he was just beginning to get used to her presence.
Like the child he still was inside, Knives railed against the unfairness of the situation. Like Rem and Vash so long ago, she was leaving him alone. And he didn't want to be alone, not again. For years upon years he'd walked a lonely path with nobody to talk to. Looking back it'd been like moving through a black void where none existed but himself.
And the prospect of returning to that emptiness shook him to his core.
That was how Vash found him as he staggered in, scratched and bloodied but alive.
He took in the scene before him. Millie lay on the floor, her chest slowly rising and falling signaling that she was alive, though injured as indicated by her red arm. All he could see of Knives was his wide back. His head was bowed over what he held in his arms, shoulders quaking slightly. Vash saw a tuft of black hair sticking draped over one of his arms and his eyes widened.
He took a step forward. "Knives...?"
When there was no forthcoming answer, he took the initiative and moved further into the room. He knelt beside Millie. The big girl was unconscious, a large bump on her head meaning she'd been knocked out cold. Even as he lifted her in his arms and rose to his feet she didn't so much as mumble. The lack of response worried him, but not so much as his brother's behavior and the ominous bundle he held.
Vash came to stand behind his twin. The entire time he'd watched Knives, wondering if the other plant even knew if he was there or not. A single indication that he had was when his shoulders stopped moving, but he never turned around.
He quietly called his name again.
Knives didn't even twitch, and Vash felt a niggling of panic begin to build. Gently he set down Millie, making sure that she wouldn't inhale any of the liquid which covered the floor.
Slowly he rose and walked around his brother until he stood in front of him, staring down at the two forms. Just as he'd feared, it was Meryl who Knives held in such a tight embrace.
With the experience of one who'd been around humans for over a century, he knew that the wound she had was...fatal. His brother and the floor around them were stained with her blood and her breathing was raspy and uneven, meaning something horrible had happened to the lung beneath the puncture.
Even with the advanced technology that might be on this ship, that is if Dominic had even kept it from falling into disuse or if it hadn't been destroyed in the Great Fall, there was no hope. He was also positive that Meryl would never survive long enough for her to receive that aid.
He was equally as sure that Knives was aware of that.
Cautiously he sank to his knees beside his quiet sibling as tears began to form in his eyes. His best friend, one of the best people he'd ever met, who had helped him through the worst times in his life, was dying right in front of him. He felt utterly helpless, but he knew that it was nothing compared to how Knives was feeling, if the emotional waves flowing off of him were any indication.
His brother was hurting, deeply. Vash only hoped that he would weather this storm, and not sink into a bottomless pit of despair, or worse, once again become the monster he'd been.
He slowly reached out an arm toward Meryl's broken form.
"Don't touch her," Knives growled. His head lifted slowly, eyes blazing a bright blue as his power swirled behind them. The plant's face was twisted with pain and tracks of tears ran down the smooth plains of his face. He gritted his jaw against a sob. "Just leave us alone."
Vash's face was a mirror of agony and sadness. But while his was one born of witnessing the deaths of countless people, all of whom he'd mourned in his own way, Knives' was as fresh as the first flower of spring.
The outlaw's heart went out to him, and he wished that there was something, anything he could say, do, that would help to relieve some of his brother's suffering. Years of experience and knowledge of his brother's nature, told him that this time he should, and would, honor his wishes.
Should haves and what if's crowded his mind as one hand gently reached out and smoothed a lock of hair off of Meryl's forehead. This Knives allowed Vash to do, as a final farewell to a woman who had been the outlaw's savior.
Stiffly, feeling as if the weight of the world lay upon his shoulders, Vash stood and with one tear-filled glance retrieved Millie and left the room.
The faint lapping of liquid against the walls was the only sound beside the tiny woman's labored breathing. With every raspy breath the wound poured more of her life's fluid out of her body and onto the floor around them. Vainly, not even sure why he was bothering, Knives tore a strip of his sleeve off and tried to staunch the gaping hole.
It was the size of one of Tsume's bladed fingers, damning him as the guilty party, though the plant knew that Dominic had been the one to give the order.
The cloth quickly pinked and her life drained away with every beat of her heart while Knives quietly held her. Not since he was a child had he ever felt this powerless, this incapable of action. But rather than enraging him as it would usually have, he felt only a great, gaping emptiness, a hole of despair that seemed to eat away at his very soul.
Meryl gave a great cough as a spasm of pain wracked her small frame. Knives held her closer to keep her still as his gut clenched and his breathing stopped. From his vast medical knowledge, he knew that the tiny woman was experiencing her death throes, the movements of a body's last struggle for life.
Another jerk of her body and Meryl's eyes flew open, their violet depths unseeing, blinded to everything but the pain. He expected the end to come, for her eyes to become glassy and hollow, like so many other humans' that he'd seen in his life time.
But rather than giving one last breath and going completely silent, she fell back into his arms, limp, but alive. A feeble hope blossomed in his chest and he carefully pulled the cloth away from her wound, hardly daring to believe that he was right.
As the last of the cloth was pulled away the sight that he beheld took his breath away. Instead of a gaping hole where she had been stabbed, there was new, pink-colored flesh, smooth to the touch. The regeneration process was under full sway and not even such a massive wound was winning against it.
He ran a finger over the new skin, and stared amazed at the being before him who was no longer human, but like he and his twin. Dominic had indeed gotten his wish.
Meryl was now a plant.